Kool Kat of the Week: From Whispers to Screams, Director Jeff Burr Becomes One with the Monsters as a Fangtastic Guest at the 5th Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION

Posted on: Oct 2nd, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Jeff Burr, local award-winning independent filmmaker, will be joining a sinister line-up of horrorific guests Monsterama Convention’s fifth frightening year, co-chaired by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and Kool Kat Anthony Taylor, creeping into the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta this weekend, Friday – Sunday (Oct. 5-7)! Prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulish proportions including a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with chillers like Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL; THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN); Rachel Talalay (FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE; TANK GIRL); Ken Sagoes (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3); creaturific artist Kool Kat Mark Maddox; Victorian chamber metal musicians Valentine Wolfe; Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte; glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so many more! So why not get wicked and haunt on down to MONSTERAMA for a weekend of monster madness!

Burr’s film career spans 30+ years as writer, director, producer and actor. His love of filmmaking spawned as a child growing up in Dalton, GA, with the production of Super 8 films with his neighborhood friends, and became full-on reality when he was a student at the University of Southern California. He and classmate Kevin Meyer produced their student film, a Civil War drama, DIVIDED WE FALL in 1982, which gained a lot of attention from film festival goers and jurors, taking home over a dozen awards world-wide. His first feature film, horror anthology FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM released in 1987 under the title THE OFFSPRING, starring the Godfather of Horror, Vincent Price, alongside a strong cast of actors and actresses. On April 28, 2015, Shout Factory released their Blu-ray of WHISPER, containing bonus features produced by local horror history expert and documentarian, Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures [RETURN TO OLDFIELD, and A DECADE UNDER THE INNOCENCE]. Burr continued to delve deep into the abyss of horror as the director of STEPFATHER II (1989), LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990), PUPPET MASTER 4 (1993), PUPPET MASTER 5 (1994), PUMPKINHEAD II (1993) and he will continue to play in the filmmaker fire as long as he is able!

ATLRetro caught up with Jeff Burr for a quick interview about his love of film; his first ever feature-length film, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM; his experiences with the one-and-only Vincent Price and this year’s maniacal MONSTERAMA madness!

From A Whisper to a Scream Set – Vincent Price, Jeff Burr

ATLRetro: As a visual storyteller and filmmaker, you’ve played the roles of director, writer, producer and actor for the last 30-plus years. What drew you to become a filmmaker and what keeps you playing the game?

Jeff Burr: I grew up in Dalton, GA and for whatever reason always loved movies. My mom worked for a radio station and had a pass from the local theaters to see any movie for 50 cents, so I saw quite a few movies from a young age. Both of my parents were active in community theater in Dalton, and I always loved going backstage, etc. to see how the sets were built and behind the scenes. I started making Super 8 films with my friends and it grew from there. It is a calling, or an obsession, or an addiction…pick your label. It is one of the most frustrating, heartbreaking, crazy endeavors to make a film – the only thing worse is not doing it! If you will permit a shameless plug, on the Scream Factory Blu-ray of my first feature film FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, there is a documentary by Daniel Griffith called A DECADE UNDER THE INNOCENCE, and that is truly my origin story.

Is there a film you have always wanted to make? Or still plan to make?

Heck yes! I have several films that I want to make. One is a comedy/drama, another is a period adventure film in the vein of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, albeit lower-budget and messy, not unlike AGUIRRE in scale. I am also working with a talented writer from Florida, Jonathan Dornellas, on a horror script about a subject that affects everyone.

You co-directed your final student film for USC, DIVIDED WE FALL (1982), with Kevin Meyer, winning over a dozen awards at film festivals world-wide. Can you tell us a little about the film, and what it felt like to win so many awards as a student filmmaker? And most importantly, how can our readers access the film, if possible?

DIVIDED WE FALL was a period Civil War action/drama that kind of became our own version of APOCALYPSE NOW. The film grew and grew in scale and took close to a year to make. John Agar (a name Monsterama fans would hopefully know and love), Nicholas Guest and David Cloud starred. Future “Leatherface,” R.A. Mihailoff and veteran character actor Mike Shamus Wiles had major supporting parts. Kevin Meyer and I did everything on it – writing, directing, photographing, editing, producing, etc. We dropped out of school to finish it and had a big premiere in November of 1982. The film went on to win awards, etc., but the gates of the Hollywood Studios didn’t magically open for us, as we probably naively thought! I am hoping the film will be included on the upcoming Turbine (germany) release of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM.

Your first feature film and horror anthology, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987) [a.k.a. THE OFFSPRING], which was shot mostly in Dalton, Georgia, just a few short hours north, became a huge cult hit amongst genre lovers. Any fun/scandalous behind-the-scenes stories you’d like to share with our readers?

The making of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM is full of stories, and if you’ll permit me one more shameless plug I would suggest that if you have any interest in the making of a very low-budget regional film in the 1980s there is an amazing documentary on the Scream Factory Blu-ray from Daniel Griffith and Ballyhoo Productions entitled RETURN TO OLDFIELD. WHISPER was my first feature film, and in many ways it felt like an extension of my Super 8 films. I was happy and lucky to have my brother William as one of the producers, and my great and talented friend from college Darin Scott as the other producer and co-writer – not to mention another great college friend C. Courtney Joyner as the other co-writer. The crew was a mix of amateur and professional, and it was an amazing experience. The cast was a dream come true, and getting to work with actors such as Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Cameron Mitchell, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Angelo Rossitto, Susan Tyrrell and Martine Beswicke was pure artistic bliss. As far as scandalous stories go, you’ll have to see the documentary and hear the commentaries!

Speaking of WHISPER, in your opinion, what are the pros and cons of directing an independent “regional” film vs. a Hollywood studio production?

Well the obvious “con” about doing a regional low-budget film is that you don’t have money to throw at problems that invariably rise up, but the good thing is that you can solve those problems with imagination. It might lead down a different and better path. What was wonderful about making the film was that I had complete creative control, and didn’t have to justify every artistic decision to some producer or executive. I am an independent filmmaker at heart, and that is where I belong. It has only taken me 30+ years to figure out what I knew at age 17! And for the record, I really have never directed a real “studio” film.  I would say I made it to the triple A ballpark but never really took a swing in the major leagues.

What were the advantages of revisiting the neighborhood backlot of your childhood?

Whisper – Roger Corman and Vincent Price unite!

The advantage of shooting a film in Dalton was that I knew some pretty interesting locations and was able to shoot them, and the town itself was incredibly cooperative and enthusiastic. No film had ever been shot there, and of course the process of making a film was very different then. Now there are films made in every small town in America! But Dalton really was a supporting character in the movie, and it could not have been made anywhere else. In a very literal sense, I owe whatever career I have and had to the town of Dalton.

What was it like to work with the “Merchant of Menace,” Vincent Price, a.k.a. Julian White, the historian and thread that tied the terrifying tales together in WHISPER?

Working with Vincent was heaven. Getting Vincent to do the movie was hell. He was just as you would probably expect – generous, funny, so intelligent, warm, and so damn talented. It was an honor, and I do mean an honor, to be able to direct him. But in the process of getting him to do the movie, man oh man there were a few moments I will never forget. Watch the documentary! (And come talk to me at Monsterama – I will tell the whole story!)

In true Price fashion, his character says, “One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” As a purveyor of horror [TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III; PUPPET MASTER 4 & 5; PUMPKINHEAD II, etc.], would you agree with this statement? Can one be too old for spooky, nightmarish fun?

No one is ever too old for nightmares. What makes you have nightmares might change, but there will always be delicious dread certain nights when you lay your head on your pillow. And one thing that horror fans (of which I am proud to be one) have is a sense of wonder and humor that keeps you young. I don’t like the phrase “They never grow up.” Better, “They never grow old!” To have a sense of wonder about the world, and an amusement, or bemusement, even of the worst of the world is a great quality to possess.

Do you think you’ll ever return to Dalton to make another feature film?

LET US PREY (early Super 8 film starring Bobby Pike)

I absolutely intend on making more films in Dalton! There is an amazing talent pool in North Georgia, one that is growing as I type this! And the filmmaking infrastructure in GA is here to stay. GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS shot for one day in Dalton. I would have fainted if that had happened when I was 14!

Who would you say are the filmmakers or films that inspired you the most and what was it about those particular filmmakers/films that inspired you?

I have been inspired by many films and filmmakers. In the horror genre, David Cronenberg, George Romero, John Carpenter, James Whale, Michael Reeves, Roger Corman – way too many to mention!  Certain fairly obscure films that I saw as a kid and always stuck with me are PHASE IV, EQUINOX, SHOCK WAVES, THE TERRORNAUTS. However, I would say the most influential movie that I have seen is 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I saw it as a kid, and I have seen it many, many times since on the big screen. Just saw it twice in the 50 year anniversary edition.  I don’t know why that film hooked onto me, but it did and it has stayed with me for 50 years. Other directors/films I love are Jerry Lewis, William Friedkin, Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky – again too many to mention. To be a filmmaker, you have to be a lover of film, of all film, from all countries.

Can you tell us a little about working for the king of B-films, Roger Corman, at New World Pictures?

I worked in the advertising department with Jim Wynorski, and it was as crazy and as educational as you could imagine. My crowning glory was that my tagline was used for the newspaper ads for SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE – “He’s dressed to drill!” And a few years later, I had a meeting with Roger about directing Vincent Price, and he came to the set to have a reunion with Vincent!

Would you agree that independent filmmakers have come to rely on the popularization of smaller and more local film festivals, especially genre filmmakers? Why do you feel that film festivals are so important to independent filmmakers?

Film festivals are essential to low-budget indie filmmakers, as it can be the only theatrical exposure that they have. To see a film with an audience and to hear the reactions is uplifting and incredibly educational for filmmakers.  And it is a way to break through the white noise of so many films out there, with word of mouth, reviews, etc. I hope that the theatrical experience for smaller films doesn’t go away!

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

The 50th anniversary reissue of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY; the reissue of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT in Burt’s memory; waiting for Don Coscarelli‘s book on independent filmmaking, TREE OF LIFE Criterion Blu-ray; and waiting for the (soon to be released) TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 from my good pals Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff!

Any advice for up and coming filmmakers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

The most obvious piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers is get out there and make a film. Make one, learn from it, apply the lessons to the next one, and on and on in a never-ending cycle. Two more things – don’t be more excited about the gear you have to make the film than the story you are telling. Love your actors and cast very, very carefully. A wrong casting decision cannot be fixed in post. In the scripting, shooting, and post processes, take your time so you don’t waste the audience’s. And as quickly as you can, learn that the most important thing to photograph is the human face.

What’s next for Jeff Burr? Anything exciting coming down the pike?

William Burr doubles as Cameron Mitchell (Whisper)

There’s always something exciting coming down the pike! I’ve got projects I am working on, and who knows what lurks down an unknown road?

And last but not least, what are you looking forward to most at MONSTERAMA, one of our favorite local classic monster conventions around!? Anything exciting planned for attendees?

I think I will be on a panel, and there will be full disclosure about any area of my checkered career that anyone wants to know about. I am just looking forward to talking to people that have the same love of movies that I do, and I always learn of films that fell under my radar that I will then seek out, etc. I look forward to seeing Sam Irvin again – he is a great guy and a talented and dedicated filmmaker. And of course to meet Mark Goddard, Luciana Paluzzi, etc.  Meeting and talking to actors you have admired since childhood is a great thrill.  And I have some THE KLANSMAN questions for Luciana!!!

 

All photos courtesy of Jeff Burr and used with permission.

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Rockin’ Retro Guide to Dragon Con 2015

Posted on: Sep 3rd, 2015 By:

dragonconBy Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

As the famed pop culture extravaganza that is Dragon Con takes over downtown Atlanta once again this Labor Day weekend, one has to think: where to even begin? In between countless meet and greets, discussion panels, vendors, and amazing cosplays to ogle at, it seems impossible to do everything Dragon Con has to offer in just four days. ATLRetro is here with our top picks to help you get your nerdy Retro fix without short circuiting from overstimulation.

GUESTS

carollspinney_2CAROLL SPINNEY. The legendary muppeteer behind everyone’s favorite SESAME STREET resident, Big Bird, will be speaking at the Imperial Ballroom in the Marriott Marquis Atlanta on Saturday at 2:30 P.M.  This is a must-do for any con-goer, child or adult, that grew up with Big Bird and his neighbors.

PETER MAYHEW. With STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS approaching at near-light speed, the hype for the new film has reached peak levels. Be at the Mariott Imperial Ballroom Sunday at 4:00 P.M. to hear Peter Mayhew, the actor behind beloved Chewbacca, talk about the new installment in the saga and his experience appearing in all three STAR WARS trilogies.

brianBARRY BOSTWICK. If you’re one of many that have spent weekends past midnight with Dr. Frank N Furter and freinds, you’ll definitely want to make your way over to the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Friday at 1:00 P.M. to catch up with Barry Bostwick, aka Brad Majors, from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), and see why he  was compelled to audition for the film. Also catch him at Lips Down on Dixie’s live performance accompanying RHPS at 1:30 A.M. on Sunday in the Hyatt Centennial Ballroom.

TERRY JONES. Terry Gilliam has been a guest at a couple of DragonCons. Now we get the other Monty Python Terry. What’s he best known for? Well, here’s a hint: “Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!” Here him share his Python memories and more on Sunday at 11:30 A.M.. and he presents Terry Jones: A Very Naughty Boy Live!” about the making of LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) on Monday at 10 A.M., both in the Sheraton Atlanta’s Grand Ballroom.

300208_271920342839242_789821841_nCOMIC & POP ARTIST ALLEY

DEREK YANIGERIf the art of perpetual Kool Kat Derek Yaniger looks familiar, it’s probably because you can see it at the top of this article. Derek designed ATLRetro’s fabulous logo. Stop by his booth to get your fix of rockabilly, tiki and more in a sea of fantasy and steampunk.

PANELS

2001THE HISTORY OF PULP FICTION. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, adventure, noir. They all appeared in the pages of pulp magazines so it makes sense that Pulp Fiction has its own panel. Join fellow pulp lovers in a discussion of Pulp’s fascinating past and exciting future. (Sun. 10 AM; Augusta 3, Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel)

PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE: WE KNOW YOU ARE. There is perhaps no movie that is quite as quotable as Tim Burton’s classic PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) With a reboot rumored to be in the works, be sure to celebrate  the original on its 30th anniversary. Tell ‘em Large Marge sent ya! (Sun 10 PM; M303-M303, Atlanta Marriott Marquis)

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY REUNION. Since its premiere in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic has bewitched viewers of all generations. Two of the film’s stars, Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, reunite to reminisce on the unbelievably unique experience they had performing in this landmark film. (Fri. 1 PM, Sat. 5:30 PM; Grand Ballroom East, Hilton Atlanta)

CHRISTOPHER LEE & LEONARD NIMOY: CLASSIC SCI FI LEGENDS. 2015 saw the loss of two of the most talented actors the Sci-Fi and Horror genres have ever known. Join other fans to celebrate the lives of Leonard Nimoy and Sir Christopher Lee, whose contributions to pop culture will never be forgotten. (Sat. 5:30 PM; M303-M304, Atlanta Mariott Marquis)

hieberCTHULHU: NEW SPINS ON OLD MYTHOS. Everyone’s favorite Elder One has resurged in popularity in the past few years, and it looks like it is here to stay. Stop by to hear the experts explain how and why Cthulhu “works” in today’s world of pop culture, and where he’s headed in the years to come. (Fri. 7 PM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

EXPLOITATION! In what might end up being the most entertaining and liveliest panel at Dragon Con, panelists and fans will gather to celebrate exploitation and cult films and all the revelry they bring. A late night panel for a late night crowd. (Fri. 10 PM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

HISTORICAL HORROR. ATLRetro’s own Anya Martin will be moderating this panel, which will discuss and analyze the role history plays in horror fiction and how historical settings can bring new life (or death) to a story. Other panelists include Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Leanna Renee Hieber, Kenneth Mark Hoover and L. Andrew Cooper. (Sun. 11:30 AM; Peachtree 1-2, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

PARTIES

9.6(2)PIN UPS BY THE POOL. Who doesn’t love mermaids? Come see Dragon Con’s finest sea sirens compete for the grand prize, and join in on the fun by channeling your inner pin up for some poolside glam. (Fri. 8:30 PM; Sheraton Atlanta)

SUITS, SINATRA & STAR WARS. In wonderful Dragon Con fashion, two fabulous themes (the STAR WARS saga and the Rat Pack) have been combined to create what promises to be a swingin’ night for all. Dancing with a wookie to a Sinatra song is the best kind of night one can have, after all. (Fri. 10 PM; A601-A602, Marriott Marquis Atlanta)

MONSTER MASH FOR CHARITY. Halloween may be over a month away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break out your Dracula fangs and Frankenstein bolts early. And the best part of this classic monsters graveyard smash? It’s all for a good cause! (Fri. 10 PM; Regency VI-VII, Hyatt Regency Atlanta)

MECHANICAL MASQUERADE. Go really retro Steampunk style at the Artifice Club‘s annual four-hour bash, orchestrated by Kool Kat Dr. Q and always a Dragon Con highlight. The theme this year is “Dystopia A Dark Future to Remember.” ( Sun. 10 PM;Peachtree Ballroom, Westin Peachtree Plaza)

BURLESQUE

9.5(2)DRAGONCON BURLESQUE: A GLAMOUR GEEK REVENUE-Burlesque is a Dragoncon staple; no Labor Day weekend would be complete without at least one show. Stay up late Saturday night to get a chance to check out Kool Kat Taloolah Love and the rest of the lovely ladies and mayhaps lads, too, of D-Con burlesque; they’re sure to put on a show that brings down the house. (Sun. 12:00 AM; Reg. VI-VII, Hyatt)

To check out the complete Dragon Con schedule, download the Pocket Program and/or app at www.dragoncon.org

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RETRO REVIEW Still Trapped in the Overlook After All These Years: The Plaza Theatre Presents Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING and Documentary ROOM 237!

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2014 By:

THE SHINING (1980); Dir. Stanley Kubrick; Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers; Friday, June 6–Thursday, June 12 (see Plaza website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

ROOM 237 (2012); Dir. Rodney Ascher; Starring Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner; Friday, June 6–Thursday, June 12 (see Plaza website for times and ticket prices); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Plaza Theatre is presenting an intriguing pairing of films this month. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of horror, THE SHINING, is being coupled with Rodney Ascher’s documentary on that film’s obsessives, ROOM 237. See both: marvel at Kubrick’s handiwork and then marvel at the interpretations offered up by the movie’s most hardcore fans.

Recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) has just accepted a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel, which was built on an Indian burial ground, gets snowed in and inaccessible during the winter, and constant care must be taken to ensure that the elements don’t take a toll on the building during those harsh months. The Overlook also has a troubled history—the previous caretaker lost his mind and killed himself and his family, and other horrors are suggested to have occurred during its many years of operation. Jack sees this assignment as a perfect time to get some writing done, and to rebuild his relationship with his family: wife Wendy and son Danny (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd). However, Danny has “the shining”—the power of telepathy, and the ability to see visions of past and future events…a power that the hotel itself seems to share, and which could bring down the already-unstable walls of sanity that Jack Torrance has tried so hard to build.

Okay, last time we spoke, I described MARK OF THE VAMPIRE as being one of the more controversial classic horror movies. Well, THE SHINING is probably the most controversial modern horror film. It seems that most folks find no middle ground when discussing this movie: it’s either one of the greatest horror films of all time, or it’s an overrated piece of tripe. Very few people come away from it thinking “meh, that was okay.”

Why is that? Well, there are a number of reasons.

Firstly, there’s the temperament of the viewer, and a lot depends on how they feel about the change in direction Stanley Kubrick’s films took with his 1968 science fiction epic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. While his earlier films are certainly full of extended takes, deep focus and long tracking shots, those films are also more dynamic—typically full of emotionally-charged, dramatic moments. 2001 established that he was unafraid of presenting long takes in a quiet and lingering manner that seemed to examine the characters from a distance. The shots seem to emphasize the isolation of his movies’ central characters in an oppressive, surrounding environment. Paradoxically, the combination of deep focus and extended shot length creates an immersive experience: the viewer feels the same overwhelming subjective experience of the film’s characters, but the tone of Kubrick’s approach keeps the viewer knowingly at arm’s length from those characters. The viewer feels as if he or she is there, but still distanced from the action. Depending on your taste, you can find this compelling and suspenseful, or you can find it cold, detached and boring.

Secondly, there’s the question of fidelity to the film’s source. Stephen King has never cared for this adaptation of his novel (though his initial hatred of it has calmed over time). And that’s kind of understandable. The novel was written largely as a way of dealing with his own alcoholism and the anger issues he encountered as a husband and father, and to see his sympathetic stand-in Jack Torrance depicted as being pretty well off his nut right out of the gate…well, I might take it personally too. Beyond the treatment of Jack Torrance, King has been consistent in his criticism that the film abandons many of his own novel’s themes. King also felt that Kubrick (being a staunch atheist) tried to muddy the waters of the supposed reality of the ghosts that haunt the Overlook Hotel—that he shifted the balance too far in suggesting that the spirits seen are all products of the mind’s eye. So if you’re among those who feel that a filmed adaptation needs to remain as faithful to its source as possible (particularly if you’re also a fan of King’s novel), you may walk away disappointed.

Thirdly, there’s the question of the acting in the film. To be sure, everyone’s performances in the movie are pitched over the threshold of what is considered normal. Jack, Wendy and Danny are all higher-strung than your everyday family members. Jack isn’t just crazy, he’s berserk. Wendy’s not just growing more upset, she’s panic-stricken. Danny isn’t just frightened, he’s rendered wide-eyed and speechless. And it’s easy to get rubbed the wrong way by what can be seen as overacting.

But, man, I can’t get on board with any of those criticisms.

I’m a huge fan of Kubrick’s technique. His utilization of these long takes creates a tension that I find nearly unbearable. The viewer remains merely and consciously an observer to what’s going on. And as you witness the events of THE SHINING snowballing while the film progresses, it’s as if the film’s compositional structure itself is telling you that there’s not a single thing you can do to help these people. You can sympathize with them if you like, but you remain at a distance. It is a detached aesthetic, yes, but there is purpose behind it.

Also, when it comes to fidelity to source material, a filmmaker should not be forced into a promise to remain faithful to any work they’re adapting. Film and literature are two completely different animals; what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. And an adaptation is an interpretation by definition, not a direct copy of what is being referenced. Criticizing THE SHINING for straying from King’s novel is like criticizing Picasso for not painting a photorealistic depiction of the bombing of Guernica, or John Coltrane for recording a My Favorite Things that only glances occasionally at Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original composition. Kubrick has his own goals, and uses King’s source as a jumping-off point to achieve those goals. Judge his film on its own terms, not the terms King lays down in his novel. (If a close adaptation is what you seek, search out the 1997 TV mini-series. It’s remarkably close to its source novel, thanks to King adapting his own novel for the screen, while faithful King director Mick Garris helms the production. It’s also dreadful.)

(Side note and potential spoiler: Kubrick fully expects you to come away believing that the ghosts are real. His aim, stated in interviews at the time, was to have the viewer question whether the hotel is really haunted, or if the visions are the product of Jack and Danny’s haunted minds until the latter choice becomes impossible. Ask yourself this: if the ghosts aren’t real, who opens the supply room door?)

And then there’s the acting. I agree that it can be over-the-top. However, some things should be kept in mind: both Wendy and Danny are still traumatized by the abusive acts of Jack Torrance (which are only hinted at; one event of abuse is detailed, wherein Jack broke the young Danny’s arm, but the implication is that this is the only thing he did that left a physical mark and that Wendy is able to admit). So “naturalistic” acting is probably not something that would fit. Wendy is constantly in a nervous state of denial. Danny is withdrawn and in a constant state of unease. Additionally, everyone’s fragile state of mind is being affected by the presence of the power that permeates the very walls of the Overlook Hotel. And then there’s the technical issue that all of the actors simply must deliver large performances, lest they be completely overwhelmed by their surroundings. The Overlook is such a huge, overpowering presence, that meeker performances would be lost in competition.

And let’s not forget the set design of the Overlook itself. It doesn’t make any sense. Look at it. Windows to the outside are present in rooms nowhere near an outside wall. Paths taken through the hotel don’t add up. It is subconsciously upsetting because we constantly get a sense that something is wrong, but we can’t quite put our finger on why. The “why” is that we try to force a logical layout on the landscape that is rejected by the hotel itself. The Overlook is like some Escher-esque labyrinth of madness, waiting to ensnare anyone who wanders inside and who is sensitive to its forces. The repeated patterns of the hotel’s décor lull us into accepting that this is order. But these merely disguise the chaos that undulates underneath this superficial fabric.

(In case I’m not making myself clear here, I love this movie.)

In short, it’s a masterpiece of horror cinema, and one of Kubrick’s most towering achievements. And like all great works of art, it has inspired debate and subjective interpretation. This is where Rodney Ascher’s documentary ROOM 237 comes in. Told entirely in voiceover and using a brilliantly conceived montage of images from Kubrick’s filmography and sources as disparate as SCHINDLER’S LIST and Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS, the film details the many theories and interpretations of Kubrick’s movie. These theories range from the outlandish (THE SHINING is an apology for Kubrick’s alleged part in faking the moon landing) to the less-outlandish (THE SHINING is a metaphor for the constant recurrence of violence in America) to the “let’s sync up THE WIZARD OF OZ and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, man!” level of stoned college student ingenuity (THE SHINING is meant to be played forward and backward at the same time).

Smartly, the documentary doesn’t take a stance; just presents each person’s take on the film without judgment and allows you to evaluate each wildly differing interpretation on your own. For my money, the structure of the documentary is a little haphazard, jumping around from viewpoint to viewpoint, but it’s hard to argue with the ultimate brunt of Ascher’s film. This isn’t really about THE SHINING. This is about obsessive fandom. This is about film geekery. And to the subjects of ROOM 237, THE SHINING is like that elusive monolith in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It stands impenetrable, but if you could only touch it, it could unlock untold worlds. All of the narrators feel like they’ve touched it and come away with The Truth. But in reality, they’ve been sucked into the labyrinth that is the Overlook Hotel just like poor Jack Torrance. It’s just not quite as unsettling to see them navigate their way around it.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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RETRO REVIEW: JODOROWSY’S DUNE Celebrates One Man’s Passion to Take Cinematic Audiences to Another Planet

Posted on: Apr 29th, 2014 By:

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (2013); Dir. Frank Pavich; Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux;  Now playing at UA Tara Cinemas @ 4:45pm and 7:15pm.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Frank Herbert’s DUNE is a paradox. It’s a novel of fantastic scope, high adventure and spirituality that hangs on a deeply personal space opera plot. In short, DUNE is everything a movie producer wants in a blockbuster film.

On the other hand, the same material that makes Herbert’s novel so appealing renders it a whopper to reel in. The story is dense and inaccessible, the setting weird and unwieldy, and everything that happens is in pursuit of a drug that alters your consciousness and expands your mind. That’s a hard sell in Peoria.

DUNE is like a siren sitting on an enormous safe full of cash, and great filmmakers have sunk to the depths trying to crack it. Perhaps the greatest is David Lynch, a true visionary of the art form, whose turgid, silly 1984 adaptation clearly got away from him. Rumors abound that prior to Lynch, names like Ridley Scott, David Lean and even Jack Nicholson all considered giving it a go. A 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries had its merits but came woefully short. The fact is that the story of DUNE as a movie is written with the misfires.

Before all of these failures, there was Alejandro Jodorowsky. The Chilean-born surrealist behind art house smash EL TOPO (1970) and the breathtaking, bonkers THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) [NSFW] built a team in the mid-70s—not of technicians, but of “spiritual warriors”—to bring DUNE to the screen for the first time. What he created was a landmark of cinema history, an impact crater that shook the industry and left a mark on pop culture that’s easy to identify even today. Not bad for a movie that wasn’t even made.

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, a new oral history of the film that never was, begins with an interview from DRIVE (2011) director Nicolas Winding Refn in which he claims Jodorowsky once walked him through the screenplay and storyboards step-by-step, making Refn the only person who has actually seen his version of DUNE. The documentary tries to rectify that to an extent, filling the screen with storyboards and animated concept art that gives audiences a glimpse at what could have been a cinematic mind-trip to rival that of Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Jodorowsky, you see, had no interest in the pop and whizz of traditional space opera. He believed that with DUNE he had a responsibility to change the world, to alter the minds of those in the audience and to provide the experience of tripping on LSD without the pesky need to actually take the drug.

And then he asked Hollywood studios for millions of dollars.

In the story between Jodorowsky’s inspiration and the inevitable collapse lies a truly inspired documentary, one that breathlessly fawns on the director and his vision, but still allows Jodorowsky (now in his 80s) to work himself into a puckish frenzy describing every wild shot or audacious casting choice or the moments where his artist’s indignation causes friction with his crew. (Evidently Pink Floyd was really into hamburgers, that most banal meal.) Watching Jodorowsky rant is almost a bigger draw than the fragments of his lost film. This is a man who once talked Salvador Dali into playing the crazed emperor of the universe, and his charm still shines through in his advanced age, even if he is prone to halting interviews to play with his cat or indulge in an inappropriate metaphor or two.

The story of his film, as painted by Jodorowsky and the others, is an unlikely “team on a mission” tale as the director assembles his collaborators, from the late Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR, ALIEN) to comic artist Moebius, HR Giger and the French progressive rock band Magma. Every time the peak of the story is seemingly reached, it just gets bigger. By the time a burning giraffe gets a mention, it’s just another oddity to throw onto the pile.

Of course, Jodorowsky never misses an opportunity to find the metaphysical in the moment, and likewise the documentary becomes about something more than a lost artifact of cinema history, but also about life and loss and the very-human need to create. It’s a credit to Jodorowsky’s vision that shortly after his project fell apart, other science fiction films began to hire his team (O’Bannon, Moebius, and Giger were all hired by Ridley Scott for ALIEN) and gradually his failed effort flowed out and gave life to other projects, films and stories that would alter the course of the movies in a very real way. Although DUNE was never made, its influence is everywhere. The documentary makes a compelling argument that the lost DUNE is a keystone project. It’s death guided the subsequent four decades of genre cinema, but if it had lived. . . well, then maybe it would have changed the world.

Maybe the money guys were right. Maybe the film had no chance of achieving its ambitions, and there may have been little chance of making back its budget even if it did. But, then, one never knows. Jodorowsky still hopes for a DUNE animated film that incorporates his script, and now that you mention it, advances in special effects and a renewed interest in smart science fiction may have created an environment that’s ripe for a DUNE revisitation. An attempt led by Pierre Morel fell apart back in 2011, but maybe the right director can finally crack this nut.

What could go wrong?

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is now playing at UA Tara Cinemas. Get tickets HERE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Who Wants to Go Back to Earth Anyway?!: Andrew Gaska Ignites AFTERSHOCK AND AWE into Hit ’70s Sci-Fi TV Series SPACE:1999

Posted on: Apr 22nd, 2013 By:

SPACE 1999, the ’70s Gerry and Sylvia Anderson sci-fi series, returns in SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, a 168-page graphic novel from New York-based guerilla design studio Blam! Ventures and published by Archaia Entertainment. Sometimes comics reboots are just about nostalgia, but writer Andrew E.C. “Drew” Gaska has plugged up many of the holes in the science, plot and characterization quite masterfully. Let’s admit that the concept of the moon being blown out of earth’s orbit and then traveling around the galaxy at speeds fast enough to take the crew to other planets was a bit far-fetched. But the show also had an amazing cast including then husband and wife Martin Landau (Captain John Koenig) and Barbara Bain (Dr. Helena Russell), who had also teamed up on MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, veteran character actor Barry Morse (Dr. Victor Bergman) and ultimately sexy Catherine Schell as shapeshifting alien Maya. And the Eagle, well, it was one of the coolest spaceships ever featured in TV science fiction!

ATLRetro recently caught up with Drew, a regular on Artists Alley at DragonCon who nurtured his pop culture roots as a veteran consultant for the digital gaming industry including such hit titles as GRAND THEFT AUTO and the Max Payne series. His current passion is breathing new life into some of his favorite licensed properties from childhood. He penned CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Archaia, 2011), an illustrated novel which solves the mystery of what happened to astronaut Landon, who was also captured by the apes and lobotomized. And next up, he’ll be tackling the 1970s TV series, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY.

Each of these projects is worthy of its own interview, so for now, we’ll stick with Moonbase Alpha. And we should also note that the stunning visuals on the book are thanks to a triumvirate of artists, legendary who produced the book with artistic team Gray Morrow, Spanish artist Miki and David Hueso (GI JOE:STORM SHADOW).

ATLRetro: How did you first encounter SPACE:1999? Was it a childhood favorite or did you discover it later, and what did it mean to you?

Andrew E.C. Gaska: Basically I discovered SPACE: 1999 as a child in the 1970s. My father was a police officer, and he worked until midnight, so I stayed up and watched TV with him during the summer. At 11, it was THE HONEYMOONERS. At 11:30, it was TWILIGHT ZONE. At midnight was STAR TREK. and 1 o’clock was SPACE: 1999. I really only saw the second season of SPACE:1999. I really liked Maya turning into animals. Also, my best friend while growing up had the 24-inch Eagle toy from Mattel. We used to play with it with our STAR WARS toys. I was into all science fiction. I wouldn’t watch anything else except THE HONEYMOONERS and THREE’S COMPANY and science fiction shows. Those were the only choices and really shaped who I am now. Actually…that’s kind of frightening.

I was reintroduced to SPACE: 1999 in the ‘90s by the book, EXPLORING SPACE 1999 by John Kenneth Muir, who eventually did the foreword to AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. It led me to looking for bootleg videotapes of SPACE: 1999, which wasn’t available in any official release at the time. I’d buy bootleg tapes at conventions and got really into it again. Of course, I bought it all on DVD when it came out later  – and again on Blu-Ray!

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did Aftershock and Awe come about? Was it you wanting to work in the Space:1999 universe or were you approached?

Back in 2005, I formed BLAM! Ventures, my guerrilla design studio, to acquire licenses for creator-owned properties. The plan was to get the rights, get a book about 80% done, and then shop them around to publishers to get released. I went to Paramount and tried to get STAR TREK. I went to Universal, to Fox… I basically hit all the big ones. Of the ones I hit, PLANET OF THE APES was the only one that gave me a response right away. That led to my CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES novel and its coming sequel, tentatively called DEATH OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which I am working on right now. One of the companies that we had tried to get properties from was ITV. We approached them about SPACE 1999 and UFO, but they were going through a lot of changes in their licensing department so we could only got so far, and then the interest would drop. Later we found out they were constantly shifting people around in the licensing department, so I gave up on it for a while. Then ITV decided to reboot the entire department, and while they were doing that, they brought in an outside licensing firm. When that firm was going through some old files, they found all the proposals I had sent them. They contacted me and told me they thought the ideas were good for the brand, so we made a deal.

It’s been very frustrating dealing with licenses and getting clients to understand that what we are trying to do is intended to benefit the license, not steal part of it.

Why is a series set in 1999 that never happened still so relevant now, in your opinion?

A lot of detractors say SPACE: 1999 is just like STAR TREK, but really it’s not. STAR TREK is very positive about the future. Space is well understood by the crew that encounters it. Each episode ties things up neatly. There are not a lot of mysteries or outside forces, whereas in SPACE 1999, every episode is a mystery or there is a greater force in play. It could be God if you will, but there is definitely some guiding force that is responsible for getting them in and out of the predicaments that happen to them. I liken SPACE 1999 to gothic space horror. Space is a terrifying place and you never know what is going to happen to you. There’s more out there that we don’t understand than that we do understand. SPACE: 1999 takes its cues from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY [1968] which obviously inspired it greatly.

In regard to the charge that it is no longer relevant, the date was one of the hurdles I had to overcome in writing AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Most of the advice I received from inside the entertainment industry was all you have to do is change the date. I was like, no, this was supposed to be continuation of the original series. So instead I approached it as an alternate history, like what direction would the world have took if the South had won Civil War or Hitler won WWII. The most obvious difference between the real world and the world of SPACE: 1999 was that we had a moonbase in 1999. It struck me that President Kennedy was so fascinated with the space program, and if he had not been assassinated, perhaps our technology would have gone in that direction rather than in cellular phones and the Internet. What you can do with alternate history is shine a light on specific aspects of our own history that you can’t do otherwise without ruffling some feathers.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

Which character was your favorite to delve more deeply into and why?

That definitely would be Professor Victor Bergman. To me, he is the most likable character in science fiction. My friend described him as a “cuddly Captain Picard.” He’s learned, he’s wise, he’s soft-spoken, and he really cares. He’s definitely the heart of Moonbase Alpha, so he was very important to me. One of the things we do in AFTERSHOCK AND AWE is go into his journals, and I had to make sure the writing sounded like his voice. One of the things that was most gratifying for me was hearing from a lot of fans that they could hear his voice in those journal entries. It’s a shame that [the producers of SPACE:1999 Season 2] kicked him off. They even said that they did so because they thought having an old guy on the show turned it into your living room versus a futuristic science fiction show. So there aren’t any old guys in the future?

AFTERSHOCK AND AWE gave you the opportunity to fill in gaps and inconsistencies in the show. Is there a particular gap or inconsistency that gave you the most satisfaction to explain?

Yes, and it’s probably obvious to anyone who has read it: Shermeen Williams. Basically she’s a character who shows up in one episode [A MATTER OF BALANCE] in the second season of the show. In that episode, she is 16 years old. If you do the math based on the amount of days since leaving orbit that’s mentioned in the episode, when the moon left Earth, she would have been 10. I asked myself, what’s a little girl doing on the moon at that time? In the ‘70s, they didn’t think anyone would notice or care. I found a reason and made it relevant for one of the main characters, specifically Victor.

Drew Gaska. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

You mean having Victor as Shermeen’s guardian. Why Victor in particular?

Basically he was older and wiser, so everyone was always looking to him for advice. Victor was always the father of Moonbase Alpha. So I thought, why not put him into that role literally by having him take responsibility for a child? It also explained why [Shermeen] is allowed to get away with so much crap in that episode in season 2. It’s because when John looks at her, he sees Victor. If we get to continue the license, one of we’ll be continuing the series 30 years later, and one of the things we’ll be doing is catching up with the characters. We’ll show flashbacks of scenes that happened in the episodes but that you did not see. For example, we’ll see what Shermeen was doing with Victor throughout the series. She was always there behind the scenes in season 1.

I liked what you did with John and Helena to flush out their back story and lay the foundation for the start of their relationship. Can you talk a little about that?

When you watch episode one, BREAKAWAY, there’s a scene that’s also in the comic, where basically Helena gives John a whole bunch of crap for putting his life at risk. He replies smugly, “I didn’t know you cared.” It seemed like some sort of hint at their relationship status. In the second episode, there’s a back story about Helena’s husband who was a lost astronaut. That set up in my mind where she was coming from. In regard to John’s past, in SPACE:1999 EARTHFALL, by E.C. Tubb, who was a brilliant author published in the ‘70s, he established Marcia Gilcrest as John’s fiancée in a short scene in the beginning. When John learns that he has been made commander of Moonbase Alpha again, she says, “look at me, John, I couldn’t possibly live on the moon.” And she couldn’t, because she was a socialite. Having John deal with these issues allowed me to show more depth in his character. And I was also able to use Marcia to show what happens on Earth. When the moon moves out of orbit, she is on Fiji and gets into serious problems when the tectonic plates begin to shift.

Which leads perfectly into the next question. In the graphic novel, you also explore the impact of the moon’s dislocation on the Earth itself. Why did you think that was important to add to the SPACE:1999 saga?

Two reasons. One was that when Gerry Anderson tried to get the show green-lit from Lew Grade, the producer who funded the show, he had a very strong eccentricity. He said he would fund the show only if we never see anything that happens on Earth, because he had seen too many science fiction shows that happen on Earth. When I heard that, I thought, ‘but there was so much that could be told about that!’ Also, people always complained that the science was wonky. There’s a lot of real science about what would happen to Earth if moon was ripped out of orbit.  I thought that a great way to ground the story in science was to show the effects if Earth lost the moon. There are other comics in which that happened, and which did not deal with the consequences. That makes it fantasy to me, and we are dealing with science fiction, not science fantasy.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

How did you research the science for the book?

The History Channel has a wonderful program called THE UNIVERSE, and there was also a Discovery Channel special called IF WE HAD NO MOON. There are books on the subject as well, but I started with those programs.

Even people who aren’t big fans of SPACE:1999 wax passionately about the Eagle. What’s so special about this spacecraft?

To me, the Eagle is one of the most brilliant designs there’s ever been in science fiction. It looks like it really could be part of the NASA arsenal. It looks like a real space vehicle, but it also looks like it could be a brick in the atmosphere. If you suspend disbelief, it just has such beautiful details such as the spines on its back. In every one of those top 100 spaceship lists on the Internet, the Eagle always is well towards number one. It has endured even more than the show.  With AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, we had a chance to bring in new story elements that work well with the ship.

If you can extend the license, where do you hope to take SPACE: 1999 in the other volumes?

Basically the point of AFTERSHOCK AND AWE was to reintroduce the concept to audiences. There are a lot of people who have never seen SPACE:1999 who would be really turned on by it if they have something new. We’re also introducing a new set of characters who are searching for the lost moon in the next series MISSION ALPHA.  They’ll be passing through the areas of space that the moon passed through and seeing the ramifications of what happened in the episodes. It’s 30 years later by that time which opens the gate to multigenerational survival stories. We have six graphic novels arced out which take the series to its logical conclusion. You will in the end find out what the mysterious force that guides them is, why the moon was blown out of Earth orbit, and why everything has gone down the way it has throughout the series. Whether or not you’ll get to read that depends on sales, so if you like AFTERSHOCK AND AWE, recommend it to a friend. We’ve got some good stories to tell, and SPACE:1999 does not need to be left to languish any longer.

Concept art by Dan Dussault for SPACE 1999: AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. Courtesy of Blam! Ventures.

What else is BLAM! Ventures up to?

My next licensed property that I am working on is BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY [based on the 1970s TV program]. It will be a series of illustrated novels, similar to THE CONSPIRACY OF THE PLANET OF THE APES book. I’m also working on a sequel to Apes that is due out in 2014. And there are some comic properties I am working on as well, so expect to see a lot from BLAM! Ventures in the future!

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Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 21st, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

BARBARELLA is a special kind of cinematic disaster. A lavish space-opera comedy released in 1968, the most important year in SF cinema since 1951, it had a $9 million budget, making it only modestly less expensive than the same year’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY ($10.5 M) and more expensive than that year’s PLANET OF THE APES ($5.8 M). Meant to celebrate the era’s new found sexual freedom and the changing role of women in society, BARBARELLA is one of those films in which the first five minutes tell you everything you are going to get, as well as promising you all the things it should’ve given us and simply failed to deliver.

The opening image is a lovely array of stars, and hanging within it an improbable and more than slightly feminine-looking space ship. We move in closer until we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit…

Full stop. Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that: “fur-lined cockpit.” You know that whoever came up with that idea was thinking ahead to an exhausted film reviewer of a more innocent age, sometime after midnight hammering out copy and tearing his hair out screaming, “HOW CAN I GET THIS PAST THE EDITORS!”

Jane Fonda as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

OK, so we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit where a space-suited figure floats in a really excellent simulation of zero-gravity (also a simple illusion, the astronaut is filmed from above while lying on a plexiglass platform). The identify is hidden behind a featureless metal helmet. But the material transforms from metal to clear plexiglass (another fine piece of simple FX, the reflective metal is actually a liquid in a space within the helmet’s bowel-like structure. It’s merely drained through the bottom.) revealing the “spaceman” is actually a not-quite-yet-30 Jane Fonda, never looking more beautiful. Her expression not only evokes a potent come-hither sexual promise, but more importantly, pure delight.

The music comes up. The song is deliberately silly (unafraid to rhyme “Barbarella” and “psychedella”) but quite catchy, celebrating the film’s title character’s sex appeal in a way that is far more joyful than crass. Though the film is based on a French comic book, it’s geared to an American audience, so before we hear her name (already legendary across the ocean), the singer compares her to our more familiar Wonder Woman.

Fonda/Barbarella strips off her space suit. It’s a sectional outfit revealing her progressively, teasingly. She is completely naked beneath. The animated titles escape the seams of the garment like venting gasses, swirling around her, protecting her immodestly. Except when they don’t. They keep trying to obscure, but she is happy to reveal. And the wantonness is now more than just promise; she expresses ongoing sexual pleasure (perhaps the caress of the letters?). Finally, wholly naked, she presses a button, tumbles down the luxurious furs, and she clearly is sated.

It’s one of the greatest stripteases in film history.

The next four minutes aren’t half bad either. The dialogue is witty and provides a lot of narrative context without excessive exposition. Barbarella immediately gets a call on her video screen from Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth. Their greet each other by saying “Love,” in what is clearly a political party’s salute.

Barbarella: “Just a minute. I’ll slip something on.”

President: “Don’t trouble yourself, this is an affair of state.”

In short order we learn that Barbarella is a secret agent in a future so perfectly utopian and groovy that she is rendered childlike in her naivete. She is assigned the mission to find an evil scientist named Durand Durand (yeah, that’s where the ’80s band got their name from) and stop him from supplying weapons to primitive peoples and threatening to disrupt the proper social order.

Barbarella (Jane Fonda) strikes a dangerous pose. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Barbarella: “Weapon? Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?…I mean the universe was pacified centuries ago.”

President: “What we know of it…We know nothing of Tau Ceti.”

Barbarella: “You mean they can still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?”

Sweet Barbarella seems only vaguely familiar with the concept of secrets (yeah, I know, she’s supposed to be a “secret agent,” but whatever) and can’t even say the word “war,” but instead babbles absurd multisyllabic euphemisms like “archaic insecurity” and “selfish competition.”

We’re now nine minutes into the film. After this point, there’s not a single Goddamn scene in the film that follows that compares, either in its sexiness, warmth of performances, generosity of humor, playful satire or technical achievement.

So why watch the remaining one and half hours?

I can think of three reasons:

1) The wonderfully creative and over-the-top costumes. Especially Fonda’s, who goes through a wide variety because since she’s constantly undressing, she is therefore constantly redressing.

2) The sets and props, which are even more impressively inventive than the costumes. I especially liked the aforementioned fur lined cock pit, the ice craft, the bird-shaped bird-cage that is the size of a small bus- well, the list goes on. Though the film showed little interest in evoking the title-character as she was presented in Jean-Claude Forest‘s comic strip, they did hire Forest as a consultant on the visuals. As wrote Graeme Clark: “[T]he film-makers’ maxim seems to have been, if it looks cool, if it looks weird, then put it onscreen.” And Gary Morris wrote, “[G]audy, colorful sets, looks like it was shot in the bowels of the Playboy mansion — especially our heroine’s spaceship, with its fur-lined walls that reek of ’60s softcore chic.”

3.) Maybe, deep down in your heart, you hate Jane Fonda, and want to just sit back, watch her flounder, and feel superior.

David Hemmings and Jane Fonda in BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Yes, Fonda has never been more beautiful, but there’s no doubt this is her career worst performance. Despite being charming in the first scene, her performance quickly degrades, as she becomes increasing wide-eyed, vacuous and cold. I have to wonder why she gets worse the farther she gets into the film. I do know it was made in France at the most important transition point in her acting and political career (her follow-up film, the same year, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? earned her first Oscar nomination, and by the time BARBARELLA was released, she’d embraced feminism and thrown her support behind the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island). What I think happened is that in between takes she started listening to the babble of French intellectuals who analyzed the film’s actual content (and I should say, this is a film that shouldn’t be analyzed for content), and they revealed to her some uncomfortable things:

First, the bad guys are led by an arrogant intellectual who insidiously infiltrates and corrupts a primitive culture with the goal of undermining the larger community of peace-loving, wealthy, advanced societies. Meanwhile the good guys, also foreigners, are forced to intervene and also engage in infiltrating and saving the backward indigenous peoples through a nobler, but still newly introduced, ideology, military training and supplying advanced weapons. The good guys turn the indigenous people into a “third force” that will create a society more cooperative to the ideals of more civilized foreign powers. The overarching message is that if you want to preserve universal peace, start a proxy war. It’s almost Robert Heinlein-esque in the way the heroes are “forced” into engaging in foreign interventions. In other words, the movie is pro- the kind of Third Phase Imperialism that led both the USA and the USSR into the Vietnam conflict.

Ugo Tognazzi plays Mark Hand, the heroic Catchman, the guy who introduces Barbarella to the wonders of really good primitive sex. But he also spends most of his day using corporal punishment to discipline nasty, unsupervised, disrespectful children. He then rounds them up so they can be properly indoctrinated into their responsibilities to society. In other words, BARBARELLA the movie hates the youth culture.

And it didn’t like homosexuals much either.

Women are completely objectified, and the heroine is an utter bimbo (which the comic-book heroine was not). Though she does heroic things, she doesn’t have an idea in her head or a goal worth pursuing that wasn’t planted there by an older, dominant male. Also, after arriving on the planet, almost all the “sexy” scenes concern her being captured and tortured. In other words, the movie is amazingly misogynistic right at the dawn of American feminism.

Also, I think even French intellectuals probably thought that director (Fonda’s then-husband) Roger Vadim, was a sleazy creep who was ruining her career with films like this. Vadim’s life reflected the films bizzaro sexual anti-liberation. He was a serial husband with a penchant for woman barely more than half his age and made a habit of trading eachwoman in as soon as responsibility reared its ugly head. Prior to Fonda was Brigitte Bardot (probably the inspiration for the comic book Barabarella in the first place), who was 15 to his 22 and whom he drove to several suicide attempts before their divorce. He left Bardot for the more age- appropriate Annette Stroyberg, but then abandoned her with a two-year-old child for Catherine Deneuve who was 17 to his 33. He was already involved with Fonda during that third marriage – when Fonda and Vadim first met she was 18 to his 27 -and when Vadim abandoned Deneuve, with their two-month-old child, to move in with Fonda she was 26 to his 35. The two would separate not long after BARBARELLA, leaving yet another child too young to walk. During that separation he would get involved with Catherine Schneider who was 26 to his now-44. There would be another two marriages after that.

Fonda would eventually disown the film. At the San Francisco Film Festival in 1994, she was asked “Where was her head?”

“I don’t know – up my armpit, I guess,” she replied. “We all make mistakes. In my case, I keep getting my nose rubbed them.”

Worse still, Fonda turned down the role of Bonnie in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) to do this stinker. Faye Dunaway eventually got that role, and an Oscar nomination. Fonda should’ve listened to Virna Lisi. When Lisi was told to play the part of Barbarella, she terminated her contract with United Artists and returned to Italy.

Jane Fonda changes costumes again as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Episodic in the same way J.R.R. Tolkien’s work was, BARBARELLA lacked the master’s flair for the actual episodes, as well as being completely lacking in forward momentum. It displayed none of Tolkien’s warmth or affection for his characters, and notably Tolkien’s much-maligned female characterization was far better than what we see in this film with a higher percentage of prominent female roles. It wasn’t even close to Tolkien’s capacity to pull the divergent threads of plot into a meaningful climax.

BARBARELLA was panned in its day but has grown into a cult classic. Today, many critics are generous towards it because of its camp value, of which there is a great deal (It’s listed with the “Top 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made” in THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE), but I can’t help but be put off when watching a film that contains much to snicker about, but when it tries to tell an intentional joke, it generally falls terribly flat. Forest’s original comic book was fun, and the movie’s original script was by the great Terry Southern, but later critics seem unanimous that Vadim was more interested in his sexual obsessions than Forest’s swashbuckling adventurism or Southern’s omni-directional satire. As a result, no one in the cast seemed to be having any fun, and lines that really should’ve been been amusing come off stale:

Barbarella: “Make love [in a manner that involves actual physical contact]? But no one’s done that for hundreds of centuries!”

“This is much too poetic a way to die!”

“A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”

Mark Hand: “Are you typical of Earth women?”

Barbarella in a revealing costume made all the more so because it was shredded: “I’m about average.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law, who if anything, a worse actor than Fonda in this movie):

“An angel does not make love, an angel is love.”

“But you’re soft and warm! We’re told that Earth beings are cold.”

And explaining why he saved the evil queen who tortured him: “An angel has no memory.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law) gives Barbarella (Jane Fonda) a ride. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

I will credit one cast member with carrying on like a true soldier. David Hemmings, in an underwritten part as the inept freedom fighter Dildano, was quite good. He offered some hints of what this film could’ve been.

Also very fine was a captivating soundtrack by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox performed by The Glitterhouse which featured Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

Vadim wanted to do a sequel to BARBARELLA, but that dream died with his marriage to Fonda. He then talked about a remake right up to his death, toying with leading ladies like Drew Barrymore. Other directors have expressed interest in the remake project, notably Robert Rodriguez.

In closing, I would like to recommend an exceptionally sophisticated homage to this really dumb film. CQ (2001) written and directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford) takes us back to Paris of the ‘60s where a young American filmmaker, Paul (Jeremy Davies), is trying to made personal art film/love letter to his girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) but all that the honest camera can do is document her depression and resentments. So he gets a job assisting the director of an a cheesy sci-fi that is clearly a better version of BARBARELLA. That film’s director, played by Gerard Depardieu, is turning the project into a complete train wreck because he can’t come up with an ending, but really, can’t cope with the fact that the fantasy of revolution and liberty he creates on film will never translate to the real world. Paul gets drawn into the director’s lunacy through his growing infatuation with the film’s sexy star, played by Angela Lindvall, who remains the same impossible ideal of sexuality and liberty even when Depardieu’s camera is not rolling.

Robert Murphy is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and play with his cats.

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